Domenici's plan takes guts

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Lofty goal reducing deficit by $5.9 trillion

By Sherry Robinson

After years of delivering truckloads of federal dollars to New Mexico, Pete Domenici has returned to an old love – deficit reduction. Lately he and former White House budget director Alice Rivlin stepped up to champion the Bipartisan Policy Center’s plan to reduce the deficit.
Domenici, Rivlin and their fellow travelers have the luxury of proposing measures their former bases might find disturbing. The plan, 60 percent spending cuts and 40 percent tax increases, would reduce the budget deficit by $5.9 trillion over the next nine years.
There’s something for everyone to like and dislike, but the most controversial would be a new 6.5 percent national sales tax, an overhaul of Medicare in 2018, and cuts in Social Security benefits. Like the plan advanced by the president’s commission, we’ve heard objections from the right and the left, along with glum predictions that neither plan will survive the political blast furnace.
Still, Domenici’s keen political instincts haven’t dimmed in the last year, so I doubt he would invest his energies in a futile exercise.
“If you don’t dream of something like this and have the guts to expect more of people then they’re currently exhibiting, it wouldn’t be worthwhile,” he told The Daily Beast, an online newspaper.
And yet, Domenici is a realist, and he calls for selflessness and sacrifice.
“The definition of ‘leader’ is going to be somebody, man or woman, who understands the problem and says, ‘I’m going to vote for things on the basis of whether they’re good for America … not whether they’re good for my election,’” he said.
In other words, our lawmakers will have to risk their political careers to do the right thing. And they have to compromise.
To those who question that likelihood, Domenici and Rivlin wrote in the Washington Post: “Our plan shows that a group of Democrats and Republicans (including 19 former White House and Cabinet officials; former Senate and House members; former governors and mayors; and business, labor and other leaders) can craft a viable blueprint to tackle the nation’s most serious long-term economic challenges.”
It was, in fact, heartening that members of the president’s commission and the Domenici-Rivlin panel could not only listen to each other but give up some sacred cows. “This is going to require compromise, even from someone as conservative as me,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican and commission member.
The public must see the urgency and make personal sacrifices, just as people did during World War II, Domenici said.
Otherwise, an unchecked federal debt “will overtake the economy itself, increasing our dependence on China and other foreign lenders, draining our resources and reducing our living standards. This risks economic crisis and threatens to turn America into a second-rate power,” Domenici and Rivlin wrote.
“Everybody must sacrifice,” Domenici said at a news conference, so that “a quiet killer that is eating away at the foundations of America... will not eat us alive.”
This was Domenici’s message in September when he spoke at the Domenici Public Policy Conference in Las Cruces: “Our children, who we promised a great life, would probably have a second-rate standard of living. And if you don’t feel it yet, you should. We’re kind of getting poorer.”
The nation will eventually have to pay so much in interest that there won’t be much left for anything else, he said. And he warned that cuts alone won’t get us to where we need to be. He should have added that the federal trough won’t be nearly so generous with New Mexico.
This is familiar turf to Domenici. In 1986, as Congress and President Reagan grappled half-heartedly with a record deficit, Domenici wrote, “The deficit, simply put, remains the foremost policy and political problem confronting the nation.”

Sherry Robinson
NM News Services